This is the final post addressing the value an attorney can add to a personal injury case.
Finding insurance to cover your damages is a complex task. Even attorneys who handle car accident cases may be unaware of the various insurance policies that could potentially cover your damages. Finding insurance is sometimes the most critical job of an attorney because many times people are injured by someone with too little or no insurance.
I’ll explain some insurance coverages you’ll need to explore if you are injured in a crash. But let me first start by explaining that the negligent driver’s insurance carrier will very rarely pay for any of your medical bills until you reach a final settlement. Once you reach a settlement, you cannot make a further claim if you incur more damages – insurance companies won’t leave your claim open just in case you had an unknown injury that you didn’t discover until after you settle. Thus, we want to make sure your doctor gives us a clear statement that you won’t need any more treatment before we begin the settlement process. That puts many clients in a catch 22: they need money now to pay for medical bills but the negligent driver’s insurance company won’t pay the bills until reaching a final settlement. Thus, we need to find ways to cover these bills until you settle your case.
The first source of insurance that covers your medical bills is, with one exception, your own auto insurance. Almost everyone – whether they know it or not – purchases medical payment coverage that is included in their own auto insurance policy. Medical payment coverage is a no-fault insurance that covers all your medical expenses that are due to an injury that occurred from the operation, maintenance, or use of a vehicle. Most people in Washington purchase $5,000 of medical payment coverage. The coverage is “no fault” because your auto insurance pays your medical bills no matter who is at fault. The only exception to your medical payment coverage being the first source of insurance to cover your bills is when you are injured in a car accident while working. In that case, worker’s compensation covers all your medical bills.
Now, this is where insurance coverage can start to get tricky. The auto insurance policy that covers a vehicle is the policy that first comes into play. If you are driving your own car, your medical payment coverage will cover your bills. If you are driving a friend’s vehicle or are a passenger in a friend’s vehicle, your friend’s medical coverage will pay your bills. But that’s not all. If your bills exceed your friend’s medical payment coverage limits, you can then seek coverage from your own auto policy.
For example, if you incurred $7,500 of bills while a passenger in your friend’s vehicle and you both have $5,000 of med pay coverage, your friend’s auto insurance will pay the first $5,000 and your auto insurance will pay the remaining $2,500.
Once your medical payment coverage is exhausted, your health insurance picks up the remaining medical bills.
Let’s move on to liability insurance, the insurance purchased by the negligent driver to cover the damages he caused to you. The state minimum insurance is $25,000. It is not uncommon for clients to be injured by someone who does not have enough insurance to cover all their damages. If so, you need to explore a couple other possible liability insurance policies that might cover your damages.
As with medical payment coverage, the insurance covering the vehicle is the first to cover your damages. If the person who injured you is not the person who owns the vehicle, then you need to find out if the person who injured you is insured through his own policy. If a person is driving a friend’s vehicle and hits you, his friend’s auto insurance must pay and, if it isn’t enough, the negligent person’s own auto insurance pays. If that person doesn’t have his own insurance policy but resides with a blood relative who does, he will be covered under his family member’s insurance policy.
For example, a client of mine was in his mid-twenties and was on a road trip with a friend. When it was his friend’s turn to drive, his fried fell asleep and my client was seriously injured in the car accident. My client’s own auto insurance covered the friend’s negligence up to the $25,000 policy limits but that wasn’t enough. My client’s friend did not own a car but he lived with his mother who did. His mother’s auto insurance paid my client an additional $25,000. Very few people, including many attorneys, would know that my client’s friend’s mother’s insurance policy would cover my client’s damages.
One other thing to look for is a business policy that covers a person’s negligence. If the other driver was making an errand for work, then a business policy would provide coverage.
I could go on in more detail as well as describe uninsured and underinsured coverages but I think you get the point. Most people, including most attorneys, do not know what insurance is available to cover their damages. Finding an experienced attorney who is knowledgeable about insurance coverage issues can put a lot of extra money in your pocket.